08/30/2018, 17.09
JAPAN
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Self-driving taxis for the Tokyo Olympics

Road tests started this week in the capital. Some 1,500 people have applied to try the service. A driver and an assistant are on board to take control in case of mishaps. The driving factor is the Olympics but also an ageing population, fewer drivers, and rising car accidents involving seniors.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A self-driving taxi easily moving through streets of Tokyo might become a hit with tourists coming to Tokyo for the 2020Summer Olympics.

ZMP, a developer of autonomous driving technology, and the taxi company Hinomaru Kotsu, began road tests with a minivan this week in Tokyo.

In their latest trial, a minivan equipped with sensors made four round-trips a day on a busy 5.3 kilometres stretch of road between the Otemachi and Roppongi districts.

The experiment, which ends early next month, has captured the imagination of Tokyoites, with 1,500 people applying to be passengers.

A driver and an assistant are on board to take control of the vehicle in case of any mishaps, but early journeys have passed off without incident.

Passengers get on by themselves and pay their one-way fare – about 1,500 yen () – via a smartphone app. This is the first instance of pay-as-you-go self-driving taxis.

The two companies have numerous rivals in Japan, the United States and Europe. Leading the way are Toyota and Uber, which are developing their self-driving vehicles.

The carmaker will spend US$ 500 million to develop vehicles based on its Sienna minivans, with testing set for 2021.

Uber's self-driving venture hit a snag in March when one of its self-driving vans struck and killed a pedestrian during a trial in Arizona.

In Japan, the development of these technologies is driven by a desire to surprise tourists, but also by the country’s ageing population as it contends with a shortage of drivers in depopulated rural areas and a rise in the number of accidents involving older motorists.

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